I've mentioned before that I spend my Sundays with my father going through my mother's things. (And yes, Sunday afternoons are my only block of free time, so my own house is falling down around our ears from neglect, because DH can't do everything.) Many people are shocked to find out that I'm still there, doing the same thing, every Sunday. Since my brother and I started talking again, he joins me on Sundays (rather than avoiding me by going on Saturdays), and he brings a child or two, all of whom seem to have grown much too quickly into very well-mannered and extremely helpful young people
So, why are we still doing it? Well, honestly, my mom was a hoarder. There is a series running now on A & E (I think), called "Hoarders." Holy cow. That's my mom, folks. You wouldn't have known if if you came to visit (provided she had some notice), because she could make the house appear to be clean, or at least the bathroom and the living/dining room would look clean. You wouldn't be permitted in any other room, not even the kitchen. Towards the end, though, she didn't even put up a pretense. There was literally stuff all over.
I always knew that she was messy. Not messy in the sense that there was rotting food around, but messy in terms of too much stuff, too much clutter, and not enough purging. She loved buying things, especially knick knacks, holiday decorations, and clothes. She never threw anything away. She said she did, but I do find that hard to believe. We have removed several thousand pounds of newspapers, and a thousand pounds or so of magazines. Unread magazines. Newspapers that were twenty years old (actually, some were over fifty years old). Junk mail that she couldn't part with. Clothing. Fabric. Ceramics. Unused Christmas presents. Packages and packages of cheap toilet paper (seriously?) and paper towels. Every piece of furniture they every owned. Stuff, stuff, stuff. If you can imagine it, she had it.
For fifty years, my parents lived together in a 1500 square foot, three bedroom house, with a full basement, and a full attic (though the ceilings in the attic angle, the floor space is the same as the footprint of the house). Do the math -- that's 4500 square feet of STUFF. I had to start cleaning one of the bedrooms by literally standing outside of the door and sorting through things. The inside of the room was piled as high as I am tall, and you could not go inside (or even open the door very far). I thought that there was a bed underneath all those things, but there wasn't. It was just an empty room filled with stuff on top of stuff. (Now I know why my mother couldn't retrieve things, like, say, baby and childhood pictures for my wedding video, because she wouldn't have known where to start.)
Her old room was the same way, except that there was a bed in there. She and my father started sleeping together again in the third bedroom, and I have a sneaking suspicion that she moved out of the bedroom she had been using because there wasn't any room for her any longer (I'm only half kidding). There was stuff all over the floor of the living room, dining room, and kitchen. I took out several garbage bags of things from their only bathroom (she liked to save articles from the newspapers she read, and there were literally so many little pieces of paper in there that I don't think she could have managed to even one more sliver of paper in any of the drawers or cabinets).
Now, we're working on the basement and the attic at the same time. My brother and his kids bring things down from the attic, filling in the spaces that I manage to empty in the basement, leading to my own depressed feelings that this project will never end. And, do recall that my mother made me promise to go through everything. I stupidly agreed, never realizing the magnitude of my commitment. Yet, even if I hadn't made the promise, I would probably do it anyway, because she indiscriminately stuffed things in boxes and bags. For example, I found $750 of almost fully matured bonds stuck in a bag of old newspapers. I've found priceless photos in the same manner. I've described this as treasures among the trash, and it really is.
There are so many things that can be used by others. My father lets my brother and I have anything we want. And still, so much left. So, I have been taking containers of stuff home with me, suitable for the Salvation Army, and writing lists about what is inside, estimating the values, and delivering it. I am literally at the Salvation Army two to three times per week, and I am familiar with the nearest Salvation Army donation site that is closest to my daily stops. And, I usually spend part of the small amount of time I have in the evenings typing up these lists so that I can staple the donation slip to it and hand it over to my father for him to use when doing his income taxes. If he had his way, he would have just delivered it to a charity or thrown things out wholesale. I just can't do that. Reduce, reuse, recycle. I'm not a tree hugger, but I can't countenance the waste, either of the things my mother saved, or the little bit of money that my father might be able to recover in charitable contributions on his taxes by documenting what he's donating.
The whole thing is exhausting. And endless.I sometimes think of it as the "Depression-era" sickness, though the "Hoarders" program has made me realize that it affects all ages. I have to believe that it is quite common, because we learned that after a neighbor two houses down from my father died, his wife had to bring in a dumpster, not only for all the things he'd saved over the years, but also for all the things that he'd retrieved out of other people's trash (he also wouldn't buy her anything new, forcing her, for example, to use one of those wringer-washing machines that you see in museums). A high school friend told me that her father had filled up her childhood home from top to bottom, then moved and filled a second home from top to bottom. (Understandably, she has been dreading how the family is going to manage after he passes on.) And, my father has a friend whose sister has the same issues.
My brother thinks my mother was "crazy" because of this. Crazy, to me, means someone who has broken with reality and sees or believes things that have no basis in fact. I have concluded that my mother had a form of neurosis, an obsessive/compulsive disorder that would have been treatable had she sought treatment (she would have been livid, I think, if I had known the depth of what was going on and suggested she get help). It became so much worse in the ten years before she died, and at that point, I wasn't looking into her bedrooms, basement, or attic to see what she was storing. But she wasn't crazy.
As for me, I am slightly guilty of hoarding, but I have a few saviors. A 750 GB internal hard drive. A 1 TB external hard drive. And Carbonite. My little scraps of paper are saved digitally. Though you wouldn't know that from looking around my house lately. Because holy cow, I just can't find the time to straighten out my own life at the moment. And that would be because I'm still trying to straighten out my mother's life, over two years after she died.
Am I angry that this has happened? Yes, but I know, at some level, that she couldn't help herself. But the resentment seeps in anyway, because damn it, my life is on hold while we do this. And, it seems as if every moment of my time is allocated to someone else -- my husband, my child, my father.
Sometimes, I get lost in the shuffle.